Shannon is a rising high school sophomore who attended the General Assembly with a group of youth from the North Carolina region.
My iPad chimed when I received the email from my mom mentioning General Assembly. I was studying for a physics test and I was looking for any excuse to take a break, so I looked at it right away. I read about it and I thought it would be pretty cool, so I replied saying that I would go and check it out.
I didn’t realize what I had just agreed to until the day before I was leaving to go to Columbus, Ohio. Before I left on Saturday, I stayed at my cousin’s apartment at NC State. She interrogated me about my trip and what it was about and the more I talked about it, the more I freaked out. Not the good kind of freaking out, the I want to go home and never leave kind of freaking out. I stayed up all night thinking about all the things that could go wrong. It bothered me more than it should have, but I couldn’t help it. I would be heading into the unknown in a few hours with strangers that I would have to interact with for the next six days.
Morning broke and the time arrived for me to leave. I was the third person to get there, and I met the first two people, Jackson and Hannah. They were normal people, not the scary monsters I was seeing in my head the night before. Then, they all came in like a tidal wave. I met all the people that I would soon become close friends with over the course of the week in a mere two minutes and before I knew what was happening, we started the drive that was supposed to take eight hours. Instead, thanks to lots of traffic delays, I had twelve hours of bonding time with these strange new people. As we drove, I was telling myself that I would survive through it and it would all be okay.
When we got there, I was surprised yet again. I didn’t know there would be hundreds of people surrounding me in a room bigger than my house. In my mind, there would be one hundred people at most. I stood, petrified, as I took the new information in. I had no idea how I was going to get my quiet, uncomfortable self through this week of speaking and interacting with all these new people.
My worries were overwhelming me… until worship started. It was the calming of the storm. I listened to the beautiful voices of the singers, joined in the poetic prayers, and engulfed myself in the message. I loved the theme, Soar. It seemed perfect for the situations that were surrounding us and the guest speakers used that theme and created masterpieces that changed my ways of thinking. I was sad when they ended and I knew that I had to go back to interacting with all the strangers. Then, another savior. I started seeing familiar faces from camp and I saw counselors that I had not seen in years. Everything came together and my worries drifted away.
After that, the week seemed to go by way too fast. I remember it, but it is all mushed together like a collage. From playing sardines in the church to discussing important issues in workshops, everything was perfect. We had three choices of workshops in the morning and in the afternoon. The workshops that have stuck in my brain are Social Justice, Getting Over Childhood Fears and Issues, and Mental Illness. We discussed how the youth should have an opinion and voice with topics like gay rights, racism, women’s rights, etc. We discussed how the people who have mental illnesses should not be looked down upon, but helped and loved because they are people too and they need our help.
Then, the workshop of tears. We had to tell our stories of hardship and expose ourselves to that issue, then realize that everything will be okay. That was the workshop that brought us all together. That was the workshop that gave us the motivation to soar like eagles.
“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.” That is the scripture that stuck out to me. It’s from Isaiah 40:1 and it made me look back. I looked back at all the times that I had been comforted and how many times I had comforted others. There was a gap between the two that I hope to fill in the coming years. I wanted to be comforted more than I wanted to comfort others. I found that when you take the time to comfort others and help in ways that are uncomfortable for you, the reward is great. You don’t get cash or prizes, you receive love and it makes you feel good knowing that you spread God’s comfort and love to others. I had become too comfortable, and during worship, the speaker said that God comforts us so we are prepared to be uncomfortable. Although the other sermons reached me too, this one affected me the most. I kept it in mind every night when we sat and listened to God’s word.
Then, when the final worship ended, it dawned on me that we were about to leave. No more angel like singing. No more free T-shirts and memories in the exhibit hall. No more pizza at the food court. No more discussions in workshops and no more worships that made people shout amen and brought tears to everyone’s eyes. The trip that I believed would be an uncomfortable week was coming to an end, and I didn’t want it to. As we traveled back home, we sang the songs we had heard over and over, retold the memories we had made, exchanged contact information, and eventually, fell asleep on each other’s shoulders. This was the car ride that I wanted to be twelve hours instead of eight. I didn’t want the amazing week of God and friends to end. It was an amazing experience and I hope to return to in two years. I will always keep this week in my heart, and I will never regret replying yes to my mom’s email all those months ago.